The high point, and indeed the point, of my Grand Northern Europe Tour was ploni_bat_ploni's wedding. It was marvellous, absolutely the best wedding there could be. And I promised I'd write about it, so I should do that before it recedes into ancient history.
I arrived chez PbP and her about-to-be-husband late-ish on Saturday evening, having travelled across Germany and Holland. Even though we were all really tired, and even though we had to get up early in the morning for a secret reason, we were not at all sensible and stayed up until some stupid hour chatting and catching up on the time since PbP left Stockholm.
I wasn't particularly keen on the idea of accompanying PbP to a secret destination, especially not on less than five hours' sleep. But I admitted that she was unlikely to pick friends who would want to organize some kind of tasteless hen event, so it was fairly easy to talk me into it. The fiancé drove us cross country, and was patient with both of us being sleepy and frazzled. PbP perked up completely when she realized what the secret destination was: the Efteling theme park. Unlike a hen party, the group of friends who welcomed us were mixed sex, and included people like PbP's mother and another older lady who would be called a relative if we were speaking Yiddish. Also unlike a hen party, it wasn't stupid or annoying, just a really lovely opportunity for disparate people from the wedding party to get to know eachother.
The theme park was a lot of fun, managing to make a virtue out of being tacky. It's sort of fairytale themed, with a bunch of stereotypical world culture stuff that would be deeply offensive if it weren't done in such an obviously good spirit. And PbP's friends were all lovely and very welcoming, making sure the language barrier wasn't even slightly an issue. I ate stereotypical Dutch junk food (chips with mayonnaise! waffles!), and had a great time on some silly rides, and was a complete wimp about the rollercoaster though I did eventually ride it.
When it came to the wedding two days later, I felt a lot more comfortable having already met the bridesmaids and some of PbP's closest friends. Though it turned out that I did actually know quite a few people, lethargic_man and curious_reader of course, but also some friends who had visited PbP in Sweden and been introduced to me, and a couple of people from the Anglo-Jewish world whom I knew through Jewish geography. I was generally very excited to see a good friend getting married, but the way that every detail of the wedding had been thought out with such loving care made me even more happy and excited. There was much eye-rolling from lethargic_man, not at how cute the wedding was but at how excessively endeared I was being by all the cuteness.
Because of the way things work in Holland, they had to have the civil ceremony separately from the religious wedding. There was some amount of faff in getting all three of us (me, curious_reader and lethargic_man) dressed in our nice clothes and across town to the venue, but luckily lethargic_man took charge and everything was fine.
The arrival of the bridal party was so cinematic that my description is going to sound as if I'm just trotting out the standard wedding clichés, but they really apply in this case. I was the nearest to a girly friend PbP had available when she was planning the wedding, so I'd seen all the wedding magazines, and the pictures of the dresses she eventually picked out for herself and her bridesmaids, and met the bridesmaids themselves at the themepark. So I had no reason to be surprised when she walked through the door, arm-in-arm with her almost-husband and two of her bridesmaids carrying her train and the other two following behind. But I absolutely forgot to breathe, they made such a beautiful picture. It's a given that all brides are radiant, and ploni_bat_ploni is naturally quite a glowy person, but she really looked as if she'd swallowed the sun. I'm not much good at describing dresses, but hers was absolutely perfectly chosen, grand without being over-the-top, flattering but still modest and appropriately formal. And the bridesmaids looked just absolutely amazing, in the dresses and jewellery that PbP had picked out for them.
The civil ceremony itself involved a lot of banter from the registrar, in Dutch so I could only follow the very vague gist. A couple of PbP's friends gave a humorous speech in English so we foreigners weren't completely left out. There was a big gavel wielded by the flowergirl, the groom's niece. And slightly oddly, when the couple started to sign the register, the area where they were sitting started to rotate slowly (!)
The three of us decided to make a brief visit to the Sephardi synagogue, as it was on the way to the synagogue where the Jewish part of the wedding was to be held. This turned out to be a bit disappointing, at least compared to somewhere like the Bevis Marks. But it is impressive simply for its age and history. When we reached the synagogue I was kidnapped by the bridesmaids and whisked away to do the first part of my job as a witness. I hadn't actually realized that witnessing was required before the public part of the ceremony, but I was very proud to sign hatam_soferet's gorgeous ketubah, to declare that the bride and groom had accepted its terms in my presence. I did a bit more witnessing during the actual ceremony (this part I had expected), so I was actually under the chuppah, the canopy, when the two exchanged rings. They had put a lot of thought into designing a ceremony that was egalitarian (the absolutely traditional Jewish wedding can look a bit one-sided) but also religiously meaningful. What else would you expect from ploni_bat_ploni?
The newly-weds travelled to the reception in a beautiful horse-drawn carriage, just to make the whole fairy-tale atmosphere complete! The reception was perfect as well, held in a sort of function room in the middle of the zoo (!). There was plenty of food to sustain us until the dinner, but not enough to over-eat. And there was a bit of dancing, which was fun and carried out with genuine enthusiasm, rather than the fakey nostalgic sort which is annoying in so many Jewish weddings. And lots of opportunity to hang out and socialize, places to sit for those who wanted to, again, just every little detail exactly right. I even managed to talk to the bride and groom, which is almost a miracle!
After the reception came to an end, lethargic_man, curious_reader and I wandered into the zoo and looked at the cute little baby macaques (and some other creatures, but... BABY MACAQUES!) It turned out that we weren't actually supposed to be there, and we got separated from eachother in the course of being thrown out. But we sorted things out in the end, and had time to head over to the restaurant for the dinner.
The dinner was, well, it was a lot of people in a fairly small restaurant, so it was hot and noisy and we were all tired by the end of it anyway. But all the foreigners sat together and this gave me another opportunity to meet some cool people. The standard of conversation was much higher than I'd expect for that sort of occasion! We finished with the full wedding grace after meals; even though it was almost midnight by then and PbP had been rushing around since very early in the morning, she is not one to skimp any part of her normal religious obligations, even on her wedding day. curious_reader had to leave fairly early to catch a plane, so lethargic_man was left on his own to get me back to the hotel, hindered by my tiredness and evil shoes. We made it fine, though; much appreciation to him for being so patient.
It was a big wedding, with all the trimmings that girls are expected to dream of. Yet it was never ostentatious, nothing was done for the sake of showing off how grand people were. I was really impressed with the way ploni_bat_ploni had thought through every little detail, harmonizing all the different parts of the Jewish community and making sure to involve her non-Jewish friends, making things personal and meaningful but also celebrating Jewish tradition and keeping all the formal aspects rigorously. It really couldn't have been more perfect, and it was an amazing privilege to be part of something like that!
Within a few weeks of that wedding, three people dear to me decided to end relationships that they had intended to be permanent. The first two divorces among my peergroup are proceeding as amicably as it's possible for these things to be, but I'm still desperately sad for my friends. And it makes writing about the perfect wedding a little bittersweet.